Tunisia’s first democratically elected leader dies
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Tunisia’s president and first democratically elected leader has died at the age of 92.
Beji Caid Essebsi, who was one of the world’s oldest leaders, died at Tunis military hospital on Thursday after being admitted the night before.
He had been hospitalised three times in recent weeks after suffering a “severe health crisis”.
Funeral plans are expected to be announced soon and the president of Tunisia’s parliament will take over presidential duties for 45 to 90 days while elections are organised.
Mr Essebsi became president in 2014 following the country’s Arab Spring uprising and struggled for much of his tenure to resolve widespread poverty, unemployment and the threat of terrorism.
The late president acknowledged this in January, saying: “A democracy cannot be built in eight years.
“Tangible results need time.”
The trained lawyer first entered politics in the 1940s.
He was a disciple of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, who is regarded as the modern state’s founding father.
From 1965 to 1986, Mr Essebsi held a number of senior roles in Mr Bourguiba’s government, including defence minister, foreign minister and interior minister, until the president was toppled in a bloodless coup in 1987.
When Mr Bourguiba was replaced by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Mr Essebsi took up a quieter life as a lawyer – but the country still suffered under autocratic rule.
Mr Essebsi re-emerged in politics after the Arab Spring, when Tunisia became the first country to unseat its leader in the uprisings.
He led his Nidaa Tounes party to victory and became the first directly elected head of state, forming a coalition with the Islamist Ennahda Party in a bid to bring peace to the country.
The two parties, along with labour unions, business leaders and civil society groups, worked together for a constitution that was approved in 2014.
The agreement helped to stabilise the country and it remains a haven of political openness and relative peace in comparison to its neighbouring countries, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Mr Essebsi recently said he would not run in the election scheduled for November, saying the country needed a younger leader.